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Quote:We’ve always said that if Google Maps is about finding your way, Google Earth is about getting lost. With Google Earth, you can see our planet like an astronaut from space, then travel anywhere on it in seconds with a click or tap. Even after an entire afternoon exploring cities, landscapes and stories on Google Earth, you'll have barely scratched the surface.

Now 15 years old, Google Earth is still the world’s biggest publicly accessible repository of geographic imagery. It combines aerial photography, satellite imagery, 3D topography, geographic data, and Street View into a tapestry you can explore. But Google Earth is much more than a 3D digital globe. The underlying technology has democratized mapmaking allowing anyone to better understand our world, and take action to create positive change.

Of the billions of people who have used Google Earth over the years, here are 15 stories that have inspired us:

1. Responding to natural disasters. Two months after Google Earth launched, we quickly realized that people were not just using it to plan their vacations. Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, and the Google Earth team quickly worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to make updated imagery available to first responders on the ground to support rescue efforts, relief operations and understand the hurricane’s impact.

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2. Taking virtual field trips. In 2006, former English teacher, Jerome Burg, first used Google Earth to create Lit Trips, tours that follow the journeys of literature’s well-known characters. Today the project includes more than 80 Lit Trips for teachers and students of all grade levels. Each tour includes thought-provoking discussion starters, classroom resources and enrichment activities.

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3. Protecting culture. When Chief Almir of the Suruí people first glimpsed Google Earth on a visit to an Internet cafe, the indigenous leader immediately grasped its potential as a tool for conserving his people’s traditions. In 2007, Chief Almir traveled thousands of miles from the Brazilian Amazon to Google headquarters to invite Google to train his community to use Google Earth. The Suruí people went on to build their Cultural Map on Google Earth which included hundreds of cultural sites of significance in their rainforest.

4. Decoding animal behaviors. In 2008, German and Czech researchers used Google Earth to look at 8,510 domestic cattle in 308 pastures across six continents. The images led them to make the amazing discovery that certain species of cattle and deer align themselves to the magnetic poles while grazing or resting.

5. Reuniting families. Saroo Brierley was accidentally separated from his family at the age of five and  ended up in an orphanage. Luckily, Saroo was adopted by a loving family in Australia. As an adult, Saroo was curious about his origins and painstakingly traced his way back home to India using the satellite imagery in Google Earth. He was able to reunite with his biological mother in 2011 after 25 years apart. View the story in Google Earth.

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